Taunting the champions

Radio guy Matt Pinto and TV chap Grant Long couldn’t agree on whether Dallas coach Rick Carlisle was out of his gourd for pulling Dirk Nowitzki in favor of Vince Carter with a bit over three minutes left. First possession, Carter hits a jumper from about 18 feet; second possession, Carter’s out, Dirk’s in. I was thinking Carlisle was working some mind games, but a minute and a half later, Dirk drew a T after complaining about an offensive foul, so maybe Carlisle was seeing the veins on Nowitzki’s forehead before anyone else. (There were six technicals tonight, which, given the level of ferocity on display, was no surprise.) The Thunder were up five with 46 seconds left, but Dallas drilled two treys, and with 1.4 seconds left, that would seem to be it. “Like heck,” said Kevin Durant, and rainbowed the inbound into the bucket at the buzzer. OKC 104, Dallas 102, and I swear I could hear the screams in the arena from four miles away.

Weird numbers on display again. The Thunder shot 58.7 percent, which is phenomenal; they turned the ball over 26 times, which is horrendous. (Rebounds were even at 38.) Russell Westbrook was back on track; perhaps more important, so was Serge Ibaka, who had been comparatively ineffective in the first three games of the season. The X factor, here, though, was the OKC bench, which apparently has a new rule forbidding letting the opposition gain any ground. I, of course, approve.

And then there was Dirk. He was, for the most part, his usual Dirkish self, dropping in 29 points including ten free throws, and snagging ten rebounds to boot. The Thunder have basically figured out that if you bottle up everyone else, it doesn’t hurt to let Dirk be Dirk. (And while he had 29, Durant had 30 — of which the biggest were those three at the horn.)

So it’s 4-0 after five days. The Mavs, who haven’t won in five tries (two preseason), will get a chance for revenge Monday on their home court. In between, the Thunder will look directly into the Suns on Saturday.

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